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The end of IT consumerization

Mass PC adoption spurred a virtuous cycle of higher volumes, lower costs and ease of use that have benefitted enterprise IT for decades. But it's over. Here's why.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

The rise of cloud computing is changing the information technology landscape in myriad ways. One of the biggest impacts is the end of the consumerization of IT. In the decade to come consumer and IT pro gear will continue to diverge at an accelerating rate.

Make it work

Consumerization of IT was a thing because of economics. IT pros didn't want to give up SCSI, superminicomputers, and SNA for SATA, x86 and Ethernet, but the cost of staying with the old gear was prohibitive. So the pros dug in and made it work.

IT's consumerization reflected the huge volumes of the consumer PC revolution of the 80s and 90s. Before the PC computers were costly and proprietary. Consumerization made them cheap and open.

As Alan Turing demonstrated in his landmark paper, any Turing machine can simulate any other Turing machine. Once Intel got its game on, driving up performance and driving down costs, the minicomputer vendors were roadkill, because their low-volume proprietary systems couldn't keep pace.

In 10 years the industry went from vertical integration - where one company designed the hardware, OS, apps and network, to a world where the hardware came from Intel, the OS from Microsoft, apps from everywhere, and the network from Cisco.

IT pros grumbled at lost features, but vendors worked hard to make the consumer-based gear almost as good and a whole lot cheaper than the vertically integrated vendors could provide.

Personal to the right, computer to the left

Today, most people don't need desktop PCs. Notebooks, tablets and smartphones are the platform of choice and their requirements - battery life, weight, connectivity - have little to do with data center requirements. BYOD has become the norm because the CEO wanted to use his iPhone for business. CIOs had no choice.

Now cloud vendors are driving IT evolution. When Google realized that inefficient power supplies were costing it millions, its suppliers quickly fixed that problem. The rest of us, who never cared, and enterprises - who lacked Google's clout - benefited.

Other web-scale technology is moving into the enterprise. The commodity scale-out compute and storage architectures that Google and Amazon pioneered are now being offered by companies such as Nutanix and Scality, and in open source software like OpenStack.

Now networking giant Cisco is under attack because their costly, complex switches have thousands of features that cloud vendors don't need. So they're building their own, at much lower cost, and enterprise IT pros are noticing.

As before, economics are driving enterprise adoption. CFOs see Amazon's prices and wonder why their CIO's capital authorization requests are huge. Given that most stored business files are only accessed a few times, it's a fair question.

Meanwhile, the enterprise market is stagnant. Companies don't invest in no-growth markets, and enterprise IT spending growth is going to the cloud, not legacy vendors.

A major system re-architecting is in the offing. Notebook users love SSDs, but SATA SSDs are already obsolete in the data center. Flash and prospective non-volatile storage technologies are forcing cloud vendors - and everybody else - to rethink system architecture.

The payoff: much more efficient servers. But it will take time to lose 50 years of disk-coddling cruft.

The Storage Bits take

Consumerization has been very good to IT, but all good things come to an end. Consumers have gone mobile, while web-scale has focused on cost and efficiency - both secondary issues in the enterprise glass house until Amazon made the high costs obvious.

Recent efforts to bring more consumer technology to the enterprise - ARM-based servers; SATA SSDs; - are ending in tears. Meanwhile the companies that have adopted web-scale technology to enterprise needs are going gangbusters.

Is this a problem for consumers? No. The market has evolved.

Consumer-focused vendors such as Apple, Dell, Lenovo and HP have enough volume to craft desirable products for the masses. Meanwhile, the web-scale behemoths have enough volume to get their needs met as well.

The "personal" in PC has gone mass market, while the "computer" in PC has gone web-scale. We all win.

Comments welcome, as always.

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